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Thunder Bay songwriter Rodney Brown is the poet of the fur trade

Fort William, Ont. native Rodney Brown, the award-winning folk singer and songwriter, with his banjo "Bob" and acoustic guitar, was in Thompson Oct.
When it comes to writing songs about the fur trade and Northwestern Ontario, Fort William-born Rodney Brown is without peer for his prodigious research.

Fort William, Ont. native Rodney Brown, the award-winning folk singer and songwriter, with his banjo "Bob" and acoustic guitar, was in Thompson Oct. 21 performing for a small but appreciate audience in the basement Bijou Room of the Thompson Public Library.

Brown, 54, who lives in the amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur now known as Thunder Bay, recently launched his newest CD, North Land, with his ongoing tales of the late 18th and early 19th century fur trade in the great Northwest. He was in Thompson for the second event of the Winnipeg-based Home Routes Concert Tour, which kicked off Sept. 22 with Corin Raymond and Sean Cotton, who make up The Undesirables.

Northland is Brown's sequel five years on to The Big Lonely in 2004. His repertoire here included such favourites as Kaministiquia, The Big Lonely, John Macdonell and Magdeline Poitras, King of White Otter Lake, Attawapiskat, Tecumseh, Pierre Bonga, King of White Otter Castle and McGillivray's Dream.

William McGillivray was born in Dunlichty, Scotland in 1764. His uncle Simon McTavish brought him to Montreal in 1784 and hired him to work for the North West Company at an annual salary of 100. The following year he was posted to the Red River department as a clerk, and in 1786, accompanied by Patrick Small, he reached the post at Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask.

He married a mixed-blood woman named Susan à la façon du pays.The Nor'Wester would in time befriend such great voyageurs as Alexander Mackenzie and mapmaker David Thompson, who gave what is now called the Kootenay River in British Columbia the name McGillivray's River, in honour of William, and his brother, Duncan.

From June 1808 till October 1809, McGillivray represented Montreal West in the Lower Canadian House of Assembly. He died in October 1825 on a visit to London.

Brown is part of the wave of 1970s Canadian folk singers that also included Stan Rogers, Murray McLauchlan and Bruce Cockburn. He is best known for a sense of place in his songwriting - living and writing about Northwestern Ontario where he lives.

His discography includes 10 albums recorded since 1977's Freedom in Me, including three in the last 10 years. Brown started plucking guitar strings at the age of seven, learning to play from his dad, country and western singer Mel Brown. Before his solo career took off, he played with a couple of bands, including Whiskey Jack.

When he's not touring, Brown teaches at music workshops with schoolchildren in Thunder Bay and area.

The way the Home Routes Concert Tour works, says Lisa Evasiuk, co-ordinator of the Reel North Film Festival, who teamed up with Thompson Public Library administrator Cheryl Davies to bring the tour here, is "the cost for each show is $15 and every cent goes to the amazing musicians who come to us from all over Canada. I supply a bed and a meal (for free); Cheryl is supplying the basement Bijou at the library (for free) as our "living room" for the up close and interactive acoustic event (of which there will be six in total). You buy a ticket, supply your time and sit back and totally enjoy the music while visiting with the musicians."

Homes Routes is a not-for-profit organization. The chairperson is Derek Black, a 25-year veteran of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, including eight years as its board president. Black plays guitar and sings as well.

Other board members include Chris White, artistic director of the Ottawa Folk Festival, who is also a songwriter; Troy Greencorn, artistic director of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso, Nova Scotia; Manitoban Steve Schellenberg, a songwriter who is the artist representative on the board; Robert Lyons of Regina, an owner of nightclubs and restaurants, who is also described as "a very decent lyricist and guitar player and an old hand at producing house concerts" and Les Siemieniuk, general manager of the Calgary Folk Festival and a long-time broadcaster including producing CBC Radio's Simply Folk.

Rob Lutes, a singer-songwriter from Montreal, whose work has sometimes been compared to John Hiatt and Fred Eaglesmith, is next up here Nov. 26.

Greg Quill of the Toronto Star deemed Lutes' third CD, the 2007 studio effort Ride the Shadows "a brilliantly understated gem distinguished by a warm and raspy voice, honest and eloquent lyrics, and evocative acoustic guitar workamong the best of the year's roots/blues crop." The Ottawa Citizen named the CD "one of the Top Ten in Canada for 2007."

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